Monday, September 22, 2008

Monologue: Elinor Dashwood's Sense

Monologue Mondays are back ~ Season 3

This past summer's misguided reboot of Brideshead Revisited, all pretty to look at but dully obvious to think about, makes one long for the day when world class directors were making British costume dramas. Nowadays we get Becoming Reducing Jane or Revisiting Brideshead Revisited [sic] instead of complex emotional work like Howards End or 1995's spirited Sense & Sensibility.

[aside: You counter with "But Joe Wright!" to which I say "OK... but don't interrupt my train of thought!"]

Emma Thompson, a veteran of better earlier costume dramas, was a major bright spot in Brideshead. A little Emma can go a long way to rescuing a movie. When the movie itself is good a little Emma can go a long way to making it great.

Wisely, Emma even understands that a little Emma goes a long way. In signature performances like Howards End (1992) and Sense & Sensibility (1995) she tends to store up the emotion, focusing on nuance for the first two acts of her portrayal. When she finally does release it for dramatic affect, her climax is always galvanizing. Consider the mini explosion of Elinor Dashwood. Her heart is breaking...
Edward made his promise a long time ago, long before he met me. Though he may harbor some regrets, I believe he will be happy in the knowledge that he did his duty and kept his word. After all - after all that is bewitching in the idea of one's happiness depending entirely on one person, it is not always possible. We must accept. Edward will marry Lucy - and you and I will go home.
Her sister Marianne (the vibrant Kate Winslet) who has a history of misunderstanding emotional temperaments different than her own, interjects, frustrated with what she sees as heartless resignation. This infuriates Elinor...
What do you know of my heart? What do you know of anything but your own suffering? For weeks, Marianne, I've had this pressing on me without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature. It was forced upon me by the very person whose prior claims ruined all my hopes. I have had to endure her exultation again and again whilst knowing myself to be divided from Edward forever. Believe me, Marianne, had I not been bound to silence I could have produced proof enough of a broken heart even for you!
Oh Elinor. Just as quickly as Emma let's Elinor's despair loose she pulls her back, portraying Elinor's personal programming with crystalline clarity. The subject of the scene is Elinor's quiet despair but it's Marianne who suddenly needs comforting. Elinor crosses the room with just a beat of annoyance and a whiff of unspoken self-lecture brushing her face. She holds her crying sister when she's the one that desperately needs to be held.


"When Subtlety Attacks!" could be the tagline of this Emma Thompson performance but it's also descriptive of Ang Lee's best films. They're so carefully measured and layered that when they finally do explode: the sex scenes in Lust, Caution, the kiss in Crouching Tiger, the break-up in Brokeback Mountain or that titular Ice Storm, it can pulverize the viewer. If they ever hold an Ang Lee or an Emma Thompson retrospective, that's the tagline they ought to consider.

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Previously on Monologue Mondays (Season 2) Bay of Angels (1963), In Bruges (2008), Notes on a Scandal (2006), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Hitchcock in 1969, Velvet Goldmine (1998), Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), Eastern Promises (2007) and A Mighty Heart (2007) (Season 1) Blade Runner (1982), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), Bring It On (2000), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Sideways (2004), Bull Durham (1988), Trainspotting (1996), Addams Family Values (1993), American Psycho (2000), Tootsie (1982), Strange Days (1995) and The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
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16 comments:

John T said...

There should be a law requiring Emma Thompson to be in every movie.

Anonymous said...

I love Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility, for which she also wrote the script. I seem to remember reading that when she was writing, she thought the roles would be played by sisters Natasha and Joely Richardson (Vanessa Redgrave's talented actress daughters).

I think Thompson also said she had to be ruthless in adaptation, that she deeply offended someone who told her that their favorite scene was the basket scene with a certain character, and Thompson regretfully told her that she'd cut the scene and the entire character.

And yet - I love what she does leave - it seems like so many tellings of the story forget that there is a third sister, young Margaret. In Thompson's version, Margaret is in the heart of the story with the others.

I guess what you've said about Thompson's restraint in acting also applies to her writing. In either case, she is a treat.

NATHANIEL R said...

she's an embarrassment of riches. writing. acting. maybe she should direct next ;)

thanks for sharing that bit anon. isn't she writing something now? I don't see it on her IMDB but i remember reading a new adaptation project. anyone else remember that? what was it?

Anonymous said...

Joe Wright? That guy who Made Atonement look like a cheap melodrama? Ppor fans of British costume drama: Wright is not the salvation.

- cal roth

par3182 said...

"what do you know of my heart?" - now there's your tagline for the ang lee retrospective

that line (and emma's reading of it) is my strongest memory of sense and sensibility - the real best picture of 1995

JoFo said...

My love for Ang Lee knows no bounds. Put him together with such actressexuality as Emma Thompson? I can die now.

the boyfriend said...

Isn't Emma now writing a new version of My Fair Lady? (I'm pretty sure that was reported in the Times a few weeks ago.)

Anonymous said...

It's "My Fair Lady" Emma is adapting, with Keira Knightley to play Eliza Dolittle (supposedly).

Me likes the sound of that ^^^ project. =)

ryansumera said...

if someone made a dame julie andrews biopic (ala life with judy), there'd be no one more perfect to play her than the divine emma thompson.

mrripley said...

poor emma always my no 7 in 95's best actress line up i sometimes feel it is too similar to earlier work in costume drama,so ilet 6 other actresses push past.

for me her film rescuing was done in love actually and stranger than fiction 2 perfs which i have her in my top 5 supp actresses of there respective years.

NATHANIEL R said...

hmmm. i don't like her at all in Stranger than Fiction (which is rare for me). the character doesn't make any sense to me and feels like a cliched interpretation.

but usually i think she's just great.

Phoebe said...

Love the dissection of the subtleties of the scene.

lylee said...

I *heart* this movie and Emma in it, and you have with unerring instinct gone straight to one of her finest moments in it. It's explosive. I believe my heart stopped the first time I saw it.

Her screenplay/diaries for S&S are a hoot, btw. Well worth reading.

You're also spot-on in your assessment of Ang Lee. What really impresses me about him is that he knows just how to hit it down the middle in terms of popular appeal, and yet incorporate these *nuances* that only get better with each viewing.

NATHANIEL R said...

thank you for the compliments -- i felt good writing this and it's not always so ;)

and agreed and very much so with Ang Lee's rare ability with populist appeal and a little something extra for those that like to pay more attention.

I really love his movies and now I'm kind of embarrassed that I still haven't seen eat drink man woman

mikey67 said...

Thank you for this. That penultimate scene in S&S is my favorite scene in any film. Elinor gets her wish fulfilled and completely loses it. I love it. Emma must work more. She owes it to the world.

crazycris said...

although I really enjoyed this film and thought it a pretty good adaptation of the book... and I admired the work of all the actresses involved... I think there was a major flaw (to be seen in most Austen adaptations) and that's the AGE of the actresses!!! Elinor is supposed to be 21 at most I believe (dunno where my copy of the book is at the moment) and Marianne 17? I'm sorry but Emma was just WAY to old to fit into the role believably and it's pretty visible on the screen.

I enjoyed more the rest of the cast, best ones there: Margaret... Alan Rickman (can't go wrong with him) and Hugh Laurie!!!